Congress moved forward Thursday with a bipartisan bill aimed at protecting Israel from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would impose criminal penalties on U.S. citizens who actively take part in international boycotts against Israel or Israeli businesses.
The bill was introduced as an amendment to the Export Administration Act of 1979, which was passed to protect American companies from the Arab League boycott against Israel. If enacted into law, it will extend similar protection to Israeli businesses.
The bill, sponsored by representatives Peter Roskam of Illinois (R) and Juan Vargas of California (D), “prohibits U.S. companies from participating in boycotts promoted by international organizations, like the U.N., that target U.S. partners, like Israel,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce of California (R) said in a statement.
Democratic Representative Eliot Engel of New York, a co-sponsor, hailed it as “an important legislative fix to bring our anti-boycott statutes into the 21st century.
“Current law already prohibits U.S. companies from participating in state-sponsored boycotts of countries friendly to the United States,” Engel explained. “This legislation simply adds boycotts by international government organizations to that law.
Addressing the contention made by BDS activists that anti-boycott law such as this would violate their right to free speech, Engel said further:
“This bill does not infringe on free speech. It makes it clear that this prohibition only applies when a person is acting in an official capacity, and if the intent was to comply with the international government organization’s boycott. Individual, personal speech remains protected — period.”
The committee vote allows the bill to proceed to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. A parallel bill is making its way in the Senate.
The legislation was drafted in 2017, in response to a United Nations Human Rights Council decision to blacklist companies doing business in the Palestinian territories.